The Serenity Prayer and the Ice Queen

Often, I feel like Queen Elsa in the 2013 Disney film, Frozen, with let it go repeating in my head like a scratched record or a warped mix tape warbling words of what has got to be the greatest three-word sentences in the history of ice queens.

Let it go. 

Life can feel like an avalanche of situations outside of our control.  Other than our reaction to things, we don’t get a say in much.  Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t have much to say, only that we don’t get to decide who listens, cares, or jams earbuds in their earholes when we speak.   Despite my awareness of how much I need to let go of Every. Single. Day. I don’t want life to be merely a series of reactions to outside events.  I want to be deliberate about what I let go of and what I strive to change.

Long before Elsa retreated to the ice castle, there was American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote the Serenity Prayer.  I know he wasn’t royalty, didn’t have a 3-centimeter waist, and couldn’t turn people to ice with the flick of his wrist, but he did write a pretty good prayer. Read more

Missing spirit; Christmas found

Like many parents, I introduced the Elf on the Shelf to my family years ago.  Every year, he flew in on December first and brought treats to my boys.  Sometimes he did silly things and sometimes he was too tired to bother and would just perch himself on a nearby object trying to look peppy.  I envied him because, even in his stillness, he brought joy.  Meanwhile, spinning like a rogue top from the Island of Misfit Toys, I was doing everything possible to make each moment merry.  Yet, no one thought I was cute or clever or fun.  Still, moving the elf each night made me feel purposeful about making the season joyful.

This year, the elf is laying face down in my dresser drawer between my camisoles and fuzzy socks.

Like the tape when I sit down to wrap presents, my Christmas spirit is lost.  Besides the missing elf, I have maintained the same traditions, attended the same parties, and surrounded myself with the same fa-la-la-la-la that suddenly feels more flat than festive.  It bothers me because I know the reason for the season.  I have even been mindful about spending more time with God, doing something every day to reflect on the joy of our savior.  I figured eventually the Christmas spirit would find me.  I would even pull that abandoned elf out of my drawer and spin an elaborate story for my teenage boys, explaining how the elf had been injured in a sledding accident and could no longer fly to the North Pole every night.  As such, he became a truck driver who sleeps in highway rest stations leaving treats for weary travelers.  My kids would roll their eyes.  I would roll out the Christmas cheer, and all would be right with the world.

Yet, each day felt like the one before.   Busy, but no genuine excitement for all the bustling.

Then I realized that maybe things don’t need to feel different.  After all, we are encouraged to keep Christmas in our hearts year-round.  More than anything, what embodies that for me are the people in my life.  They are my gifts.  Despite all the minutia that fills my day, they fill me with gratitude, laughter, and hope. It’s the simple moments of mercy they offer through kind words, concern, and unconditional love that keeps the contentment of a newborn king in my heart.  Their presence is a preeminent present I unwrap on ordinary days, moments that don’t typically have the pomp of the season that shines.  Yet they light my way with a steady glow that glimmers with the love of a baby born with a singular purpose, to save.

The Christmas spirit isn’t going to be found under the tree or from my semi-truck driving elf.   It is going to be where it has always been, in the light and love of my neighbor.  May you realize the power of your own light, because when the glittery garland is put away the world will still need your shine.

Share this with someone whose life is a gift to you and know what an incredible gift it is to me to share this journey with you.  Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Advent, Pink, and Happy News!

I was picking up throw pillows off my living room floor last week.  (I don’t have toddlers but I have teenagers and there is a multitude of similarities). Anyway, I turned around from my pillow-pick-up and looked out the window to see a pink sky.  To my surprise, there was a rose-colored glow on everything: the grass, trees, pavers – all of it.  Pink.    It was beautiful and eerie and made me feel as if the world had stopped and Jesus had come. Not long after that, the pink had faded into gray and torrential rain followed.  Still, I kept thinking about the way the sky’s color palette changed from ordinary to awesome in what seemed like an instant.  It reminded me of our faith journey.

Sometimes in our faith walk, it feels like we travel alone. Others may know our troubles but they don’t understand every notch and groove of the crosses we carry, nor do we theirs.  As such, it is important to always practice compassion and take comfort in the mercy we are offered along the way.  Our walks look different.  Sometimes it’s the longing for a child, the reconciliation of a marriage, a better job, the healing of a loved one, unbearable grief, or addiction.  Regardless of what it looks like, it requires the perseverance of faith.

For years, I wanted to publish a book about mercy.  I wanted to write the book I needed to read but could not find.  I pursued it. I experienced painful rejections, the almost but not quite, the close doesn’t count, and the dogged doubt that told me to quit.  For some time now, that has been a part of my faith walk.  Alone, in the dark, unsure, but trying to trust, I practiced patience and surrender, and above all, mercy. I persevered.  Without mercy, I never could have kept going.  It told me that it was okay to try.  It taught me to love myself, not what others thought of me or my work.  It reminded me that something far greater than earthy desires await.  So, I trudged on, trusting that I would know when it was time to quit.  I waited, sometimes even hoped, to get that message to move on.  Yet, through Gods strength, I always managed another day.

Then, on an ordinary Wednesday, a publisher offered me a book deal.  Just like that.

The walk that for so long felt cumbersome, lonely, and uncertain was over.  The longing was no more.  The wait ended.  The sound ceased to be an echo.  The darkness receded.  I had my pink sky.  There aren’t really words to describe what this meant to me, all the countless ways that I looked back and saw how God had intricately thread the tapestry of my journey. Every stitch was intentional. Every time I held on by a thread, he held me up.  I could finally see his pattern that once seemed so haphazard.  I think of all the people he sent at just the right time to keep me going, to encourage, to embody hope, and I am overwhelmed by the goodness of it all.  Yet more than anything what strikes me is how in one instant everything can change.  We walk in faith.  We trudge along.  We believe. We doubt.  We fall down.  We get up. Sometimes it’s awful.  Sometimes it’s hopeful.  And then, in the instant of his perfect timing, one walk ends and another begins.  It’s like Christmas day on an ordinary Wednesday.

During the third week of Advent, we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice. While Advent is a penitential season of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Christmas and the second coming of Christ, on Gaudete Sunday, we celebrate the joy of God’s redemption.  With only a week of Advent to go, we pause and rejoice all that awaits. “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let all men know your forbearance.  The Lord is at hand,” (Philippians 4:4-5).  As such, we switch from lighting purple candles on our advent wreath to lighting pink.

Pink is the color of joy.  It is the fulfillment of the promise of our faith.  Sometimes it’s the color of the sky reminding us of the miracles in nature.  Sometimes it’s the color of our cheeks when we are flush with joy.  Sometimes it’s the color we have longed to see for far too long.  The color that shows up one day as the embodiment of a dream.  Right now, it is my favorite color of all.

May it be yours too.

This is me signing the book contract! I know I should have dressed for the occasion or at least gotten out of my pajamas. But, seriously, I didn’t care what I looked like, I was too happy! I felt like Tim Tebow must have during one of his many signing ceremonies (only not as good looking, and with a needy dog on my lap, and readers in my hair, and coffee instead of champagne, and morning dishes surrounding me, and my husband as my paparazzi). Still, it was messy, wonderful, and perfectly pink.

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire: Deciphering truth

In a reporting class, I took in college, if a student’s article had any factual errors, the instructor automatically took 50 points off their grade.  It didn’t matter how insignificant the mistake was it resulted in an inevitable failure on the assignment.  Fact checking was more important than your lead, punctuation, or your inverted pyramid.  The paramount significance of accuracy in news reporting was underscored.

While the search for truth was drilled into me, when I examine the stories of my own mind, I question why they contain so many inaccuracies.  If I were to grade myself most days, I would be in negative numbers for the stories I create about how others feel, the significance of an encounter, and the value of my contributions in various circumstances.

Too often the truth of who I am gets clouded by feelings.  For most of my life, I considered my feelings and the feelings of others to be more important than anything else.  It’s easy to believe that there’s nothing wrong with this way of thinking, even that it’s a noble pursuit. Perhaps if we could trust the accuracy of our feelings, this would be true.  But feelings are often to blame for facts being distorted into fiction. Read more

FOMO and the Season of Advent

Just days ago, I spent the day giving thanks.  It wasn’t a restful day, but it was full of food, family, and a dance party with my nieces where I got to be the star Rockette.

Then, in a flick of a leg, it ended — the spirited kicks, the gratitude, and that content feeling that I had everything I need.  I know that’s not why they call it Black Friday but it seems apt that all the products they try to sell can make us feel as dark and empty as a turkey with no stuffing.

How strange it is to go from counted blessings to conspicuous consumption in just a day.  Stranger still, that it’s done in the name of Christ.  After all, he never owned much during his time on earth.  Jesus was concerned with miracles, not the material.  He shared compassion not coupons.  He wasn’t about making the deal.  He was the real deal.  That’s why we celebrate the gift of his birth.

But popping out of a day of thanks like a rogue jack-in-the-box, we are bombarded with glossy ads, lowest prices of the season, rebates, cyber sales, steals and deals, and all the promising thrills the hustle and bustle buys.

It’s exhausting and expensive and it’s what I do.  The season of Advent hasn’t even started and I already feel more harried than merry.  Even when I am not looking for anything in particular to buy, I am afraid not to look, because what if I miss out on something? As such, I have diagnosed myself with FOMO (fear of missing out).  I’m thinking this is a legitimate diagnosis since there is an acronym for it.

As it goes, I fear that if I don’t click on the link or the email or the buy button, then I am going to miss out on some “deal of a lifetime.”  My life will spiral out of control if I spend two more measly dollars than necessary to buy something.  My children won’t go to college. We will be financially ruined.  The Elf on the Shelf will mock me.  My nieces will find another star Rockette. Read more

Walking the race

I was walking back to school on a Kindergarten field trip when I realized that my classmates were ahead of me.  Panicked, I whirled my head around so fast that strands of dandelion colored hair lashed my face.  My fears were confirmed.  I was the last of my peers, only the chaperones were lulling behind.  I darted forward to catch up but somehow tumbled over myself landing face first on the sidewalk.

I remember the sting on my hands and knees from the fall.  The scabs on my face lasted for weeks before they faded into a bad memory.   More than anything, I remember that feeling of being left behind.

In some ways, I still feel like that five-year-old girl, always trailing the pack, never on pace.   Too often I feel like my life is not my own.  I am pulled here and there by needs greater than my own ambitions.  And I get frustrated.  I wonder when it will be my turn.  I think tomorrow will be different and the anomalies of today will pass and the plans I make can prosper.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord.  “Plans to prosper you not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future,” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV.)

I am glad God knows his plans for me but sometimes I think maybe he should clue me into them.  After all, I am having a lot of interruptions in my plans and so maybe I am on the wrong plan.  Maybe I could finally get ahead if I knew where he was leading.  I would follow, God.  I promise I would.  It would be easier though if you could give me some direction, some yellow brick road so I can get out of this traffic jam to nowhere. Read more

The Meaning of Life: a letter to my son

Last year, seventh-grade parents were given the assignment to write their children a letter explaining the meaning of life.  Seriously?  Why not just write the cure for cancer?  Or, solve the problem of world peace?  Or do ninth-grade algebra? The meaning of life?! 

Of course, the best teachers challenge us.   As it turns out, the question is worth answering.  I am sharing my letter because at times I need to be reminded of its message.  Maybe you do too.  

Dear Alex,

I have been asked to write you a letter explaining the meaning of life.  But seeing that only moments ago I spilled hot coffee down the front of my shirt, I am not sure I feel qualified to answer such a poignant question.

When we are children, we see the world in solid colors.  There are no shades or variations of pigments.  We learn basic colors early and life seems pretty simple.   As we grow older, things get more complicated.  There is no longer just the color blue but countless shades of it.

We have a lot more choices, but the right ones aren’t always clear.  A spectrum of possibilities exists as to what one’s life may mean.  That’s the beauty of life and the mystery for you to uncover.  I can’t tell you what the answer will be for you, because I am still learning what it is for me.

In some ways, the answer seems obvious, and I am tempted to spell it out.  But I resist the urge to give you a one-word solution, to pick one color from the few that existed when we were younger, to oversimplify, give away the secret, the magic formula, the profundity of life’s meaning, because of that word itself, love.  Love would be the easy answer.  God’s love, family love, married love, love of others, merciful love, eternal love, and unconditional love will be the answer many times over if you live life well.

I could do this, and I wouldn’t be wrong.  After all, love is as true as the color red. But it would be too simplistic, and life is many things, yet I have never known it to be simple. Read more

Made to Soar

I spend a lot of time with the devil I know.  A lot of us do.  We are stuck in careers, relationships, routines, and ruts that we long to change, but don’t.  There is a litany of reasons for this: fear, laziness, uncertainty, and lack of confidence.  It boils down to the notion that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t.

Maybe it’s because we believe things could always be worse that we are willing to settle with the status quo.    Maybe it’s because change involves ripping off the duct tape that is holding us together while all our broken parts fall free.  Maybe we are waiting for a miracle.  Maybe today will be the day.

Maybe can be a terrible place to be.  It’s the hell of purgatory without the hope of heaven.  It’s wishing for different circumstances to determine your worth.  It’s a waiting, a longing, and often, a loathing that has nothing to do with God.

God is truth.  He doesn’t waiver and he doesn’t wane.  He wants better for us than we want for ourselves.  He would never ask us to settle.  He made us to soar.

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

I know many people who are more stuck than soaring.  I can relate as I have always been afraid to fly.  But I am tired of the devil I know.  I am bored with his same old lies.  Baiting us with fear, he snares us into believing we can’t do better, be better, have better. Read more

Birthday Lessons for Everyday Life

I just celebrated another birthday.  Besides wilting skin, the imaginary birthday girl tiara on my head, and the presents I intend to buy myself, I think of the song Birthday by the Beatles on my 365th day of orbit around the sun.  Anthony Michael Hall sings it to Molly Ringwald in the film, Sixteen Candles.  “They say it’s your birthday, well it’s my birthday too, yeah!”

Whether it’s your birthday too, or just another day when age sixteen feels really far away, there are a lot of lessons birthdays teach.

This is what I learned from mine:

Birthday lists are important:  Every year my husband pesters me to tell him what I want for my birthday, and every year I can’t think of one single thing to get.  Yet, there are many things I want.  I just talk myself out of them because I don’t want to clean puppy pee off the floor.  Birthdays give us a chance to consider what we want.  For many of us, that feels uncomfortable.  Still, it’s important to know what you want in life, because it’s short, and precious, and as far as we know, we only get one shot at it.  What do you want?

Gifts are great: Who doesn’t like opening presents?! It’s so fun to size up the box, give it a little shake, and then rip the pretty paper off that is suffocating the thoughtful gift inside. I haven’t always thought of my life as a gift.  I have taken it for granted, given away too many days to sour thoughts and staid reflections.  But, birthdays remind me to give gratitude to the ultimate gift-giver.  I always try to offer thanksgiving to God, but on my birthday, I am especially humbled by his goodness.  I see the gift of each day: the sorrows, joys, trials, and the spaces in between.  All of it, a gift.  All of it inspires me to try to be a gift to others. Read more

Lessons from my dog: Let it be

I love my dog.  I know that’s about as interesting as one of those stick family decals on the rear window of a mini-van.  It even sounds like something you might read on a bumper sticker.

This isn’t about bumper stickers though, but rather bumping along in life with worries that ping-pong around like reckless cars weaving through traffic.

Gus, is a faux-lab we adopted when he was a year old.  I call him a faux-lab because he doesn’t like the water.  This baffles me because his breed seems almost amphibious.  He had been at the shelter for six weeks before we adopted him.  I am not sure if that had anything to do with the sign on his kennel which read, “I eat blankets.”  Since I like to hide underneath blankets when the world feels too wonky, I figured our shared affinity for bed covers might make a good match.

When we brought him home from the shelter, Gus was as shiny and black as a baby grand piano with dazzling white teeth as his keys.  He is nine-years-old now.   His muzzle is gray and his teeth aren’t quite as glossy.  He doesn’t eat blankets, but he’s always there when I need one.  The longer I have him the more grateful I am for his unconditional love and the uncanny way he completes our family.

The more I realize how dear this dog is, the more I worry about my next dog.  I lament that I won’t be able to find another dog as perfect, that I won’t even like any other dogs, that when the dog I have dies I am going to adopt 10 more cats to add to the two I have and just call my life a dog-gone disaster with a dozen litter boxes to clean.

Breaking from my catastrophic thinking I wonder why I can’t just enjoy right now.  Why am I wasting time trying to write a future when the only thing I can author is my present?  Why is it that the more I know what I have the more afraid I am to lose it?  Why can’t I be like the Beatles and just let it be?

Let it be. 

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